One of Conde Naste Travel's Top 15 travel destinations for 2015, Rwanda has long been identified with the horrific inter-tribal genocide of the 1990s. This magnificent country is now more known for its beautiful high-altitude forests, lakes, it's efficient, clean and safe capital city Kigali, and of course, it's gorillas.
Gorilla tracking in Rwanda is often described as 'life changing' and with good reason. With only an estimated 900 Gorillas left in the world, to see these gentle creatures in their natural habitat is a truly unique moment. Gorillas make their homes in and amongst the bamboo-covered slopes of the Virunga Mountains in the Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda. Trek to see them and you'll be introduced by your expert trackers and guides to one of the fully-habituated families of mountain gorillas and you can stay with them for an awe-inspiring hour, often crouching just a few feet away, whilst the gorillas go about their daily lives. Hikes in the mountains can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours+, depending on the family allocated to your group and their location. The journey back can take just as long, but you are often carried along by the euphoria you feel at seeing the gorillas! Expert guides give a pre-trek briefing on specific protocols and rules for visiting the gorillas that live within an altitude of 2500 and 4000m. Porters are available to help carry backpacks and cameras, as well as helping you with your footing along your hike which can be hard work, but well worth it.
Rwanda today is probably not what you might expect. Much progress has been made in 20 years since the genocide. The country is now one of the cleanest in Africa with good infrastructure, shiny new buildings and an efficient, successful government. Many streets in Kigali's city centre are paved, complete with boulevards lined with grass and palm trees. Rwanda looks prosperous compared to neighbouring countries.
More importantly, there is optimism, peace and hope amongst the people of Rwanda, and this is evident in the smiles and public displays of affection such as hand-holding in public, to show unity, no matter what gender.